Tag Archives: sports

intangibles


intangibles noun , cliche used by sports media to describe aspects of a player’s game or personality which cannot be tracked by statistics

Graham

This summer has been the year of the big boy summer camp for my seven year old son. Up until this summer, it was all popsicle sticks, Elmer’s Glue, sprinkler running fun. His past summers were nothing but a haze of happiness. As with all things associated with the passing of age, he was in for a rude but important awakening this summer and now that we’re winding down our August and the boxes full of new navy uniform pants and pique polo shirts collect on my porch in preparation for the upcoming school year, I am reflecting on some of the things we both learned this summer.

A true highlight for everyone this year was Graham’s attendance at the Ed Cooley Providence College Basketball Camp for a week. I remember when he decided that he wanted to go. It was in the midst of a blustery, gray Rhode Island typical winter weekend when we braved the gusts of chilly downtown to make our way to the Dunk to watch the Friars play. My college years were good but hard working years for me so it makes me proud to be able to take my son to these games, a bit of a rewarding light at the end of that tunnel I was in so long ago. At this particular game, they were giving out slips of paper advertising for the camp and Graham instantly told me that he wanted to go. The idea of having access to his basketball idols who were playing that day was something I could tell excited him just as much as Pokemon cards…maybe even a little more. So the next day I enrolled him first thing in the morning.

With much anticipation, the week of Ed Cooley camp arrived and I honestly did not know what to expect. Dan usually handles the sports related things in Graham’s life. I don’t get very much involved. I don’t know enough statistics or follow teams. I’m the mom in the stands type. I don’t need to get involved the way some moms do. The week went well as far as we could tell. Seven year olds don’t tend to be good communicators about details. We knew that no one was passing him the ball (what kid hasn’t had that happen) but he wasn’t a mess and had a relatively good time. Dan was away for work on the last day of camp for the awards ceremony, so I went back to school that day to pick up Graham.

The ceremony was pretty much procedure. Parents standing around awkwardly watching their kids running drills in the gym – the same gym I had spent at least one Midnight Madness inebriated at and several stags watching my roommates cry or fawn after boys for one reason or another. It was a surreal experience for me to say the least…but then it was time for trophies and awards and the interesting thing was that not every kid received one. In fact, some kids received 3 and others none at all. My son was a “none at all” kid and as I watched I wondered to myself how the little dude was going to handle this. This hadn’t happened to him before. A few months before he had been a finalist in the Pinewood Derby and got a much prized trophy at the regionals for Most Spirit while he watched several of his friends cry because they didn’t get one. To my surprise, he didn’t cry…at least not then. He kept a brave face, got his coaches’ assessment sheet, said good bye and we headed to the car. It was right before we exited the glass doors to leave that I could tell all was not right. He hadn’t talked or gushed the way he usually does. So we sat down and I looked at him…and he lost it. I think it was the first time I have seen my son realize that not everything is going to come easy and sometimes, often perhaps, you’re not going to be the best at something.

He recovered quickly after some munchkins and a gift from the PC Bookstore. It really only lasted 5 minutes. And since that breakdown, he plays basketball nearly everyday in our driveway – because he wants to go back to camp next summer and bring home a trophy. But later that evening, when the whole event was done, I went back to look at the assessment that his coach had written about him. Graham’s actual skills weren’t that bad – all told he was probably a B level player, but where he excelled were his “intangibles.” His coach-ability, leadership, effort, teamwork, etc…etc… And this meant a lot more to me than his ability to make a basket – mostly because I am a mom and yes, it would be great if he were some amazing athlete, but I want him to be a good person – the best person. That would make me proudest. As a parent, Dan can teach him the physical stuff and he can practice to get better, but the intangibles are harder to teach – and what will make him successful at whatever he chooses to do in his life.

As someone who has worked in NYC and in crazy, demanding environments, I can tell you this is much is true. I think I was well into my thirties before I understood how important “intangibles” are at work and in life. I’ve had to learn them and am still learning. But there are some people in the world who are born with them – like I suspect my son is. I’ve watched him these 7 years and seen the variety of children he is friends with. He manages completely different personalities on a daily basis and they all claim to be his BFF. He has his moments (he IS 7 years old after all) but in general, it’s all no sweat off his back. And I strive for that pretty much everyday. It’s a hard thing to learn and he has it mastered.

2 weeks ago Graham failed his deep water swim test at Boy Scout Camp. He cried that night and said it was the worst day of his life. 2 days later he went to camp and begged the counselor to take the test again. He passed and played Marco Polo in the 5 foot pool for the rest of the week. Everyday I learn something from my children. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, your children naturally possess abilities and traits that you’ve been trying to learn your whole life and serve as a living example and your best teacher.

There are plenty of trophies I don’t win at work and many of the things I have to accomplish are equivalent to that deep water swim test that my son failed. But next week I’ll show up, without a trophy, splashing in the kiddie pool trying my damned hardest to win them both. And someday, I will.

Thanks Graham. Love Mom.

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hustler


hustler n. an aggressively enterprising person;  a go-getter. FIFA World Cup Besides the risqué connotation that this word holds due to a well – known and scantily clad publication, this word bears marked significance in my life and, in general, success in life as a whole. I was in the third grade (or thereabouts) when I was first told that I had a talent for hustling. I remember it so vividly I can almost smell the fresh cut grass at Votee Park in Teaneck, NJ on that day. My parents had pushed me to join the CYO track team at my school, mostly because I was always running and they wanted a break from watching me for a few hours. Practices were held at the small running circle at the park –  which is remarkably still there. My coach put me up against an older girl to sprint 200 meters – most likely as a joke. I completely sucked at distance running and my dad insisted I could sprint – so here was my chance to see what I was made of, if anything at all. The nerves came on, even though we weren’t starting out of blocks, and he set us off to race. I started a little behind and then something clicked in my head and ran through my whole body. I somewhere found speed -it felt like I had to bring it up from the bottom of myself. I don’t remember for sure if I won. I might have. But what I do remember is my coach’s smile when we called me a hustler. Whether I realized it or not, it was at that moment that one of my best qualities was discovered. Throughout my life I have been referred to as a hustler and thought it was a bit negative. To me it sounded like I was forcing things to happen while it came easily for others. I’ve come to think differently as I’ve grown older. Hustling is more than just working hard to get what you want. It’s about defying the odds of success. If you’re a hustler, you don’t take no for an answer or accept that the odds are not in your favor. You fight on anyway knowing that failure is likely. It’s that 10% chance that keeps you vying and motivated. You need tenacity, perseverance and the ability to withstand repeated failure. The life of a hustler isn’t pretty. You also know a hustler when you see one. I was watching the World Cup this past weekend and this word came to mind when I saw Gary Medel from the Chilean team playing against Brazil. He had a major muscle pull that the coach said would have put him out of commission only a day earlier. Not only that, but he was playing as a defender and not in his usual midfield role. The 109 minutes he played was all heart and hustle, all about reaching deep down and finding strength to endure. He hustled through that game and when they carried him off the field I nearly wept with him. His performance had me wanting Chile to win despite my loyalty to Brazil. No one seemed to want it more than he did. Few people in life are born with an innate or natural ability in any specific thing. Many of us are talentless, completely ordinary in the grand scheme of things. But most of us have a spark, even if it’s extremely small – maybe even hidden way down deep. Just a hint of something we might be capable of. Hustling is taking that spark, that teeny tiny starting point and working like hell to make it into something more – not taking no for an answer and continuing to plough forward despite disappointment or failure. Hustling blazes the trail that becomes the story of your life. In the end, if you land on failure you still have the fight, the path littered with what you accomplished trying to get to the finish.  Hustlers may not always win, but in their journey they inspire others and contribute the much needed hope that the world is often so short of. “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” -Abraham Lincoln

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compete


compete v. strive to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others who are trying to do the same.

Rocky and Drago

There really isn’t such a thing as a fair fight these days.  A competition that isn’t secretly stacked somehow – where the opponents are only using their raw, nature born, gifts to win. I sincerely doubt it, anyway. As humans we all engage in competition of some sort during our lifetimes, more often than you realize when you really come to think about it – sometimes when we don’t even know it. It’s hard to know what the rules are or who sets them. For example, every time I send out my resume, I am competing with someone who might be best friends with the HR manager. That simple fact makes the rules of the competition much more than what I submitted in black and white. My unknown opponent has a leg up and I will most likely be the loser and won’t even be called back. If I had known, I might have made some phone calls or connections on Linked In – but the rules are pretty few and the ultimate end is to win – to be hired – and it’s not about fairness or following the rules. It’s about who gets the job.

There has been much discussion lately about Lance Armstrong and his admission of doping during the length of his cycling career. I don’t usually go for this sort of topic, but I made the time to actually watch the Oprah interview out of curiosity. I fully expected to be disgusted with him, but to my surprise I really wasn’t. In fact, the more I pondered his situation and admission, I simply felt the best reaction was to shrug my shoulders in disappointment and pity. Sure, he’s cocky and arrogant even now after he’s been humiliated – but I don’t hate him. In my mind, he’s simply human like the rest of us. He set out to win at all costs, and succeeded.

When you think about it, the Lance Armstrong we all knew was a type of fictional super hero. Competing in a sport that sat behind so many other more popular international sports, it was inspiring to see someone with such super human ability take on a literal, harrowing road to victory. When he over came cancer and still won, he became an inspiration, a role model – almost an underdog who fell from glory and made his way back to the top through sheer will and raw athletic ability. Now Lance is just another exceptional person who won, not by natural methods or talent alone – but who stacked the odds in his favor by doping and enhancing his abilities in order to win. He’s not a role model or hero, but he’s still won.

The nature of competition is to win at all costs, doing whatever it takes. Theoretically, whether a person cheated or not doesn’t really seem to matter all that much. They still experience “the winning moment” and no one can really ever take that intoxicatingly wonderful moment away. In those moment, all of the races that Lance Armstrong won are still just as sweet. His sham organization, Oprah interview and sullied name cannot change those winning moments in the history of his life. Moments that you or I may never experience. And that’s the main point of competition – to win. Not to be a good or charitable person or even a role model. It’s just not what the word means.

This is why we love “the underdog” and “the cinderella story.” They embody the idea of winning all on one’s own merit and by following the rules. By doing this, they become something more than just the winner. That is when heroes, icons, and role models are born. The perfect example being the training montage from Rocky 4 where Rocky is in the frozen siberian tundra jogging on the edge of a mountain to train. In contrast the next scene cutting to Ivan Drago being injected with steroids and training on a treadmill in warmth and comfort.

In the end Rocky wins (and ends communism, but that’s another story). But in reality, could he really have won? I mean, Ivan Drago was 3 times his size AND was on HGH most likely. The man killed Apollo in the ring for God’s sake.

We show our growing progeny movies like Rocky when they are young to instill the value of following the rules and working against the odds. We hope when they are old enough that they will choose the high road like the examples we tried to give them- but it’s not an easy path. As much as we love them and admire them, the underdog rarely wins and, yes, of course, it’s better to strive to be a role model or hero and not just win all of the time. But just like those cyclists who weren’t doping in those Tour D’France races, we won’t know their names. They are undoubtedly better people than Lance Armstrong; probably living very full and gratified lives. But they didn’t win – and that was the whole point.

“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” The loser may be the better person, but if feels damn good to win. We fight wars, play sports and buy lottery tickets all on a quest to get that elusive feeling. Competing to win is in our blood. As a parent, I do my best to raise a Rocky, hoping that when the time comes for him to compete, he’ll choose the mountain and not the treadmill.

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